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Wide-area success [ (United Arab Emirates)]
[April 21, 2014]

Wide-area success [ (United Arab Emirates)]

( (United Arab Emirates) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) The National Bank of Abu Dhabi improves connectivity to international branches by overhauling its wide-area network.

The National Bank of Abu Dhabi has one of the most far-reaching banking infrastructures to be found anywhere in the Middle East. With 125 branches and 585 ATMs in the UAE alone, the bank relies heavily on technology to deliver top-level services to its customers. And it has made the same pledge to international customers, too — the bank has 50 branches and offices in 17 countries around the world, spanning from the Far East to North America, making it the largest UAE-based global banking network.

Some of NBAD's core banking services include a 24-hour banking service called NBAD Online, and a mobile payment service called Arrow. Meanwhile, NBAD Direct gives current account and savings account support through a 24-hour contact centre.

Up until last year, these services worked across a distributed IT architecture. And while running smoothly — the bank has picked up numerous awards for the safety and security of its services — much of NBAD's infrastructure was not standardised, particularly in regards to the international branches. The bank wanted to provide the  level of service that its UAE customers were getting across all of its branches. So the bank decided to centralise its business applications — financial and non-financial — through its head office in Abu Dhabi.

Business challenge Unfortunately, the bank did not have the infrastructure in place to accommodate such a large-scale change. Centralising the business applications would make NBAD's international branches entirely dependent on the bank's wide-area network (WAN). What's more, the increased amount of data traffic would require a substantial hike in network capacity.

Perhaps the biggest issue, however, was one of business continuity. NBAD already had a sufficient WAN in place, run by Europe-based service provider Orange. But there was no back-up or redundancy system — if Orange's lines were compromised, for whatever reason, then NBAD would effectively lose business contact with the international branches that depend on the WAN.

"We had only one single service provider, and one single link. If this link failed, or the service provider had an issue, for any reason — a submarine cable is cut or something — we'd lose the connectivity, totally, with our international branches. This was a big operational risk highlighted by the management," explains Majed Salah El-Deen Moustafa, senior group leader of network services at NBAD's IT department.

Before centralising everything, then, the bank had to come up with a solution that would mitigate the risk. And after much deliberation between four different service providers, the bank found an answer with British Telecom.

Why BT? "We found that BT had the best proposal in terms of service management, in terms of their global coverage, and in terms of their experience. BT has a lot of experience with such implementations," explains Moustafa.

The agreement was that NBAD would keep its legacy WAN, but BT Global Services would build a high-performance overlay infrastructure on top, based on the BT IP Connect global platform. Immediately, this would allay any business continuity fears, as NBAD could then be dependent on both BT and Orange. But what BT added to the mix was a whole host of other benefits.

For one thing, BT provided better coverage at remote locations. For example, Moustafa says that, in Libya, the only international service provider in play is BT. The company's global reach attracted NBAD, which has plans to open up more branches that could be considered to be in remote locations. Through BT, NBAD would be provided with always-on data transmission between Abu Dhabi and international locations such as Egypt, Kuwait, London, Paris, Washington, Malaysia and China. And through its network of undersea cables using fibre-optic technology, BT offered impressive speeds and network capacities.

The roll-out was done in three phases over a 12-month period, starting at the NBAD headquarters in Abu Dhabi, before moving onto the international locations that needed to be connected. And the smaller sites would need little attention because the would be able to connect to the WAN via a virtual private network over DSL, Ethernet, cable, 3G or Wi-Fi.

At the central Abu Dhabi location, however, the infrastructure needed to be much more robust, as it would be the main point of access to core banking applications for NBAD's branches spread across the world.

"With the WAN at head office, we have a 10 Mbps link at the main site, and another 10 Mbps at our disaster recovery (DR) site in Al Ain, UAE," says Moustafa.

"We have duplicate services at the two sites. So we have the same capacity for the applications, servers, storage, and networks, on both sites. If we have any disaster at the main data centre site, the BT links fail over automatically. If something happens — like power disruption or cooling issues — automatically, all communication lines will be failed over to the DR site seamlessly. And the users won't even notice it." Perhaps the biggest advantage to BT's service, however, is that it is totally managed by BT. This means that, due to the impressive SLAs provided by the company, BT takes full responsibility for the health of the network. This means NBAD saves on equipment and time costs, with BT handling the bones and guts of the WAN. What's more, NBAD is still able to conduct load balancing between BT's network and the Orange network that powers the legacy WAN.

"For instance, in Egypt, we have 6 Mbps from BT and 4 Mbps from Orange. So in total we have 10 Mbps with load balancing and WAN optimisation," says Moustafa.

Business impact Because of this implementation, NBAD was able to push ahead with the centralisation of its business applications without a hitch. What's more, when it comes to the management of the WAN, the bank is saving on costs that would normally be associated with managing its own network.

"We're paying monthly for a managed service. BT provides the security, configuration, network performance monitoring 24x7. We're actually saving costs on the NOC — network operations centre — we're saving a lot of costs on the ownership of the routers and switches because BT manages them, upgrades them, and updates them, as per the demand. And we don't pay the annual maintenance fees, which is very costly," says Moustafa.

In terms of the WAN performance, Moustafa is full of praise for the implementation, which he says provides NBAD and its customers with a much more robust service — one that is far less likely to fail in the event of a disaster.

"The benefit is to have a diversity besides the other service provider, Orange. With this diversity, we make sure that our links are diversified from different hubs, different POPs, and different routes. We made sure that BT was choosing other routes from the current service provider. If Orange was using route one, for example, we'd make sure that BT was taking route two," he says.

One of the other major benefits comes with the scalability of BT's WAN. Moustafa says that opening new branches will now be extremely easy thanks to the solution, with BT guaranteeing a deployment time of one month. He cites BT's ability to maintain good relations with local service providers, as well as its vast international reach, as the reason why it can provide services to new locations so quickly. However BT does it, though, NBAD can rest easy in the knowledge that any new branches it sets up around the world will be connected to the headquarters in no time.

As well as the WAN, NBAD is also in the process of building a private cloud with BT. Cloud-based applications are already being provided through the bank's centralised data centre. For example, e-mail services are being provided to nine countries over the WAN. The bank has also signed up to the BT Radianz Cloud, which makes over 3,000 financial services from more than 400 service providers available to traders in 170 countries. Moustafa says that this allows NBAD to offer better banking service.

Most importantly, however, NBAD has been able to centralise its infrastructure while also managing to increase the resiliency of its WAN. The upshot is that, should anything go wrong, NBAD has a fully functioning back-up with which to serve its customers.

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